British passport applications in the North have dipped again for the fifth year in a row while the number of Irish passports being issued continues to rise dramatically, latest official figures show.
The UK passport office has disclosed that it handled 110,506 applications for a passport from a Northern Ireland address last year.
The figure is down significantly from the 119,298 applications received in 2018, following a trend over recent years. In 2017, applications numbered 121,858, down from 128,759 the previous year. In 2015, the UK was printing 129,550 British passports for citizens in the North.
The figures, released in response to a freedom-of-information request, show a 15 per cent slide in demand for British passports in the North over the past five years.
Over the same period, the number of Irish passports issued in the North has at least doubled.
Latest figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs show 107,937 Irish passports were issued last year through Northern Ireland Passport Express, which is available at post offices in the North.
The figure is up significantly – 27 per cent – from 84,855 the previous year, amid an escalating trend of rising applications for Irish passports in the North.
In 2017, 82,274 Irish passports were issued, up from 67,582 in 2016, which was also up from the 53,715 issued in 2015.
The figures do not include Irish citizens in the North who apply for their passports directly from Dublin.
This year to October, 42,907 Irish passports were issued in the North, slightly more than the 41,828 applications for British passports over the same period.
If that trend continues, albeit in a year mired with pandemic travel restrictions, the number of Irish passports being issued will eclipse applications for British passports.
Alex Kane, a commentator and former director of communications for the Ulster Unionist Party, suggested the reason for the rise in Irish passports and decline of British passports is “increasing pragmatism” among unionists.
“People want to be able to travel, they want a safeguard of an Irish passport,” he said.
“Whatever their views on unionism, when it comes to travelling to France or through Europe, they want to make sure they have the cheapest routes, the easiest way, and having an Irish passport makes that process easier for them, and they are happy enough with that.
“It doesn’t mean they are going to be walking up the Shankill Road or Cregagh Road in east Belfast waving their Irish passport.”
The “plain old pragmatism” is akin to “soft nationalists having held British passports” before Brexit, or when it was cheaper and easier to apply for them, he said.